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Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits

NCJ Number
Marc Mauer; Virginia McCalmont
Date Published
November 2013
12 pages
This report examines the impact that denial of welfare benefits due to a felony drug conviction has on individuals affected by this policy.
In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that included a number of changes to cash assistance and food stamp programs. One of the provisions of the law was the denial of Federal benefits to individuals convicted in State or Federal courts of a felony drug offense. This report examines the impact that this denial of welfare benefits due to these convictions has had on individuals affected by this policy. The report begins with a survey of the current status of the welfare ban at the State level, and includes a review of actions taken by State legislatures to opt out of the ban either in full or in part. The review found that currently, 37 States either fully or partially endorse the ban on cash assistance and 34 States either fully or partially enforce the ban on food stamps. The report discusses the potential lifetime effect that the ban could have on women, children, and certain racial and ethnic groups. The report also examines how the ban works as a policy for deterring drug use and reducing welfare fraud, highlighting the fact that it has not been very effective at either objective. Additional topics covered in the report include the public health effects of the ban, the bans effect at improving reentry and reducing recidivism among offenders, and a set of policy recommendations at both the Federal and State level to reduce the punitive effects of the ban. 2 tables